Brighton-Rock: Losing a Cities Birthright

by Jeremy Purllant

In this article, the author, a working rock musician and event runner based in the south of England reflects on the growing hardships both venues and musicians alike are dealing with; due to both urbanisation and the coronavirus epidemic.

Throughout popular music history, Brighton has proudly stood as a shining beacon of creativity and passion, leading to its recognition as one of the UK’s most musical cities. It’s upbringing as an 18th-century monarch’s personal party resort is still to this day very visible in the grand architecture commissioned at the time, most of which is now on display to the public. It was the utilisation of these grand halls and lavish theatres by their 20th-century owners as contemporary music venues which brought so much popularity to Brighton’s pebble beaches.

Yet, it is exactly these strengths that have waned as a repercussion of the recent coronavirus epidemic. Every one of Brighton’s historical grassroots venues has felt the financial pressure of recent years, leading most to question the longevity of the city's homegrown musician-friendly environment.

A far more permanent threat to the music scene is the expanding rate of urbanisation to which the Brighton and Hove metropolitan area has been receiving. Venues have been suffering from increased complaints and noise tariffs since before the COVID-19 outbreak, as displayed by the closing of the well-loved local venue Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in 2019 for the very same reasons. Other historical venues in built-up areas such as the Brunswick, Hope n Ruin, and the newly reopened Antidote bar (previously Backbeat bar) all receive noise complaints on the regular, forcing the venue’s owners to impose harsh restrictions on what live acts they can host.

The question this poses is: how much of an impact on the music scene do venue restrictions have?

As a Brighton-based performer, my experiences with venue restrictions have been plenty. I have been moved to different stages from ones that were booked; had a performance cut halfway through, and have even been asked to perform entirely different sets on the day of the performance to abide by council noise tariffs. Needless to say, as a musician, this drastically reduces the size of the circuit I am able to play, with many bands feeling similar frustrations.

Venue noise limits also affect other areas of the industry. Alfredo, owner of local independent music shop Mudpie Music has also been affected by the restrictions; exclaiming how people are not buying loud music equipment such as amplifiers and PAs. “People don’t want this stuff anymore, it’s expensive and too loud. No pubs gonna let you start unpacking your huge amp anymore, you’ll wake the neighbours.”

Even historical rehearsal studios like Brighton Electric (which are frequently used by bands such as Royal Blood and the Cure) receive noise complaints, despite being located in a renovated bus depot. “We get complaints on the regular, along with the council trying to turn the building into flats; we’re just trying to stay afloat,” said the manager.

Overall, the ever-growing urbanisation in the UK, in general, is making live music a more difficult industry to grow in and is forever forcing the performer to evolve.